Genome - The autobiography of a species in 23 chapters

1999 i UK av Fourth Estate Limited, 6 Salem Road, London W2 4BU.

There are four sorts of books about the human genome project: those that deal with the biology; those that tackle the politics of the enterprise; those that examine its potential consequences and others which combine several of these aspects. Matt Ridley's 'Genome' falls mainly into the first category and quite simply it is the best in its class.

As you might expect from an accomplished and original author, Ridley's approach is witty, well-informed and refreshingly different. He takes each chromosome in turn and selects some of the more interesting genes on it, illuminating topics such as intelligence; free will; sexual antagonism.

A admirably succinct introduction explains the science one needs to understand before embarking on the tour. This section should be required reading for those seeking to establish the minimum genetics content required in school examination syllabuses; in fact a few gems from this book would do much to enliven the dull and dated content that fills many current exam specifications.

The overall style is, with a couple of exceptions, fairly light and even light-hearted, so readers might be forgiven for assuming that there is little substance underpinning some of his wilder, apparently journalistic assertions. As we have come to expect from Ridley, his levity masks hard science and those wishing to discover more will be pleased to see extensive references to the scientific literature.

There is a danger that this book will quickly show its age, as the analysis of the vast amount of data from the Genome Project proceeds. 'Genome' is unlikely to be surpassed, however, as a stimulating and entertaining introduction to human genetics which also highlights some of the potential consequences of our new knowledge. If I was to recommend a single book on the subject it would be this one.